With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about international travel corridors.
In June, 14 days’ isolation was introduced for travellers arriving in the UK, with a small number of workers’ exemptions. This action has helped to ensure that the sacrifices of our nationwide lockdown were not wasted, and it has played a part in keeping our infection rate lower than elsewhere. At the same time, we set up the Joint Biosecurity Centre and tasked it with pulling together intelligence in order to assess the risks of inbound travel from hundreds of territories. By July, the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s analysis helped to inform our decisions to establish travel corridors, meaning that people could return to the UK from low-risk countries without quarantine.
Of course, we all know that this dreadful disease takes instructions from no one. Even with our increased understanding about how covid preys upon and capitalises on close human contact, we can still be taken aback by its speed of transmission, whether at home, through the imposition of local lockdowns, or abroad, where a country suddenly sees infection rates take off. I am the first to admit that the unpredictable nature of the virus can take us all, holidaymakers included, by surprise. As I landed in Spain on my family holiday, I was immediately joining a ministerial call during which I helped to impose 14 days’ quarantine on Spain, thereby effectively terminating my break—but more importantly, sadly, disrupting the holidays of tens of thousands of Brits in Spain and elsewhere. I know how distressing this has been—but I also know that the hard-won gains from the earlier days of this crisis must not, cannot and will not be sacrificed. Ministers will continue to take proportionate action informed by JBC analysis.
During July and August, we did not have the means to accurately assess risks within countries and within regions. The kind of comprehensive Office for National Statistics data that we now have through their testing was never available overseas, and it was too easy for the virus to migrate between regions without borders or boundaries. However, as JBC resources have strengthened, we have been able to collaborate much more closely with other Governments and their health authorities. This has led to a more forensic picture. Now, for the first time, we are able to consider a granular approach to assessing detailed data abroad. I have looked at whether this means that we can implement regionalised systems for international travel corridors, but in many cases the international data is still simply too patchy, and in all cases there is next to nothing to prevent people from moving around within a country’s border.
People will rightly point out that infection rates also vary across the United Kingdom—indeed they do—but the difference is that all the countries we are talking about have, by definition, higher rates of infection than we do. I hope the House understands that the JBC and the Government are therefore at present unable to introduce regional travel corridors from within the geographical boundaries of a nation state.
However, where a region has natural boundaries, such as an island, the risk diminishes significantly, and that presents us with a real opportunity. Our passenger locator form, combined with NHS Test and Trace, will, and has started to, give us a clear picture of exactly where infections are coming from. As a result, I can today announce a new islands policy. For the first time, we have the data and the capacity to add and remove specific islands from quarantine, while still providing maximum protection to the UK public.
There are thousands of islands across the globe—far too many for JBC to monitor on a detailed level—but it may assist the House if I outline the four guiding principles that we intend to apply. First, the regionalised approach can only apply to land that has clear boundaries or a clear border—in other words, an island. Secondly, the data collected must be robust, reliable and internationally comparable. Thirdly, the island must have direct flights from the UK, or at the very minimum, transport must be able to take place through quarantine-exempt territories. Fourthly, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel advice should align as far as practicable with the policy.
The JBC methodology for islands that I have described has been developed in consultation with the chief medical officer and Public Health England. This new capability means we will now be able to nuance our decisions, first and foremost to safeguard the health of British citizens, but also to enable British tourists to enjoy trips to islands, even if the mainland is deemed too risky. However, it is worth noting that the policy will not necessarily open up additional islands immediately. For example, when we removed Spain from the travel corridor list, there were 24 cases per 100,000 people. Today there are 127 cases per 100,000, and the rate remains too high in the Balearic and Canary islands as well.
On the other hand, Greece remains within our travel corridor programme, but our new analysis shows that some of the islands are well outside the parameters. Indeed, despite overall Greek infection levels being lower than ours, Scotland has already felt compelled to add the entirety of Greece, including the mainland, to the quarantine. However, using our newly acquired JBC data, we are now in a position to remove Greek islands where holidaymakers are at risk of spreading new infections back home. Seven Greek islands will therefore be removed from the travel list at 4 am on Wednesday
I thank our medical experts, who have forged these professional relationships and improved capacity. However, I want to make one thing clear: travelling during coronavirus is not without risk, so those who do so should please go with their eyes open. Remember that breaching quarantine is not only an offence that can gain you a criminal record, but you are also putting the lives of your loved ones at risk, as well as the loved ones of those you have never met before.
I know there is considerable interest across the House on testing at borders to see whether we can remove the necessity to self-isolate at all. It sounds completely logical, yet, as the chief medical officer reminds us, it simply will not capture most of those who are asymptomatically carrying coronavirus. As you know, Mr Speaker, those who are symptomatic should not be travelling in the first place.
The point was brought home to me in a conversation with the head of one of Britain’s major airport groups. He decided to trial airport testing for himself and a group of eight returning holidaymakers. They all tested negative. After a week in quarantine, they took a further test and one of their group was positive. This illustrates PHE’s point that, due to the incubation period of this disease, and even using highly accurate tests, the capture rate of those carrying covid-19 may be as low as 7%, leaving 93% of people who are infected free to go about their business, more likely—most likely, under those circumstances—in the misguided belief that they do not carry coronavirus.
However, quarantine combined with testing is more promising. We are therefore working actively on the practicalities of using testing to release people from quarantine in fewer than 14 days. For the reasons described, this could not be a pure test-on-arrival option, which would not work. However, my officials are working with health experts with the aim of cutting the quarantine period without adding to the infection risk or infringing our overall NHS testing capacity, which now also needs to cater for schools going back and universities returning. The islands policy becomes active immediately, and I will of course update the House on quarantine testing in the coming weeks. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Transport Secretary for prior sight of the statement, although I should say for the record that it arrived only five minutes before it was due to be made. I am not sure that is quite in the spirit of things, and it might be worth taking that back to officials to make sure it does not happen again. However, I should say that he made the effort to give me a call today, which is appreciated.
The Government’s response to the covid-19 crisis has been nothing short of chaotic. At almost every turn they have lacked a clear strategy, and that failure has been acutely felt in aviation. For months, even when the virus was at its peak, millions of passengers were coming from all over the world without any restrictions placed on them at all. By the time restrictions were introduced, we were one of only a handful of countries in the world that up to that point had failed to take action to put them in place. It is this pattern of the Government being too slow to act, coupled with blunt interventions to overcompensate, that has dogged the handling of the pandemic right from the outset.
First, there was a blunt quarantine for all, bar France, but then France was back on. Then air corridors were on the table; then they were not. What we then saw was not really air corridors, air bridges or whatever name is given to them, but essentially a list produced by the Foreign Office, half of the countries on which had placed restrictions on British travellers going there—no travel corridor or air bridge at all. Now we are seeing countries coming and going off the list, with very little notice for those who have decided to go on holiday and incurred the cost of doing so.
It is all very well for the Government now to change position and tell people that they should travel with their eyes open. It was not that long ago that the Government were defending a very senior member of No. 10 for driving for an eye test, let alone going with eyes fully open. The British public are not stupid. They understand fully the pandemic and what it means to everyday life, but people work hard, and they are desperate to return to a sense of normality. For many, that one holiday a year is something they save up for and look forward to, but they cannot afford a 14-day quarantine to be imposed with very little notice.
We need to see when the data was really made available. We all know that localised and regional data is made available across Europe, so why was it not reviewed when the decision was made in Spain, for instance, to have the restrictions on the islands? The point was made at the time and the Government did not move, but it strikes me that the evidence base was in place, so it makes sense to publish that evidence in the House of Commons Library, so that it can be reviewed.
We need to make sure that we do not take this intervention all the time. It appears chaotic because it is chaotic. There will not be a single intervention in itself that will keep this country safe; it will be a number of interventions taken together that make us safe, and a key part of that is testing. Frankly, it is beyond belief that people arrive in this country from all over the world without any tests being carried out, either at the airport or five days later. It is important that we now carry out a full review, not just of quarantine in the very blunt sense that the Government approach it, but also to ensure that a proper test and tracking system is in place. In my town, the national contact tracing system has failed to get through to half of those it should have made contact with. When we have that infrastructure and such weak performance, it is little surprise that the Government are constantly going from one crisis to another.
Aviation is on its knees. The limited support offered by the Government has meant job losses all over the place, in a sector that was always going to take longer to recover than other parts of the economy. The Government knew that, but even with the money given over to the airlines, where are the conditions to protect workers’ rights? It is a scandal that hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being given out with no conditions to protect the workers at British Airways or easyJet, and the rights that they have built up.
Labour’s position is clear. We have set out a plan for a sectoral deal, with six key conditions, supporting jobs, tackling climate change and providing fair play on tax. It is important that the Government now come forward with a proper sectoral deal. We will absolutely work in partnership, in the national interest, but the Government cannot continue to go from one crisis to another, because key to beating the virus is maintaining public support. I have to tell the Transport Secretary that we are in real danger of losing that support.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not getting the statement to him. I do not know why that happened, and I will make inquiries. As he mentions, I did call in advance, unrelated to the statement itself.
This is not a virus that any of us control, beyond the way in which we all behave individually and the extent to which we all have contact that we perhaps should not be having. It is easy to come to the Dispatch Box and be a professor of hindsight, saying, “You should have done this. You shouldn’t have done that.” If the hon. Gentleman could explain to me how he can find out that one week Jamaica will have three or five cases per 100,000 and the next week be breaching 20 cases per 100,000, even though the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and all the other experts were unable to predict it, I would be the first to welcome that kind of detailed information and knowledge. It does not exist. I believe that no country in the world has combined as much information as has been pulled together here in order to work on a detailed island policy. In fact, it is difficult to think of another country in Europe that is doing more testing than the UK now, with testing capacity of a third of a million tests per day, going up to half a million today. I was speaking to my opposite number from France, who told me that there they would reach 400,000 tests a week—in this country, we can do that in a day and a half.
Our NHS test and trace system, combined with the passenger locator form, has enabled us to extract very specific data to know where infections are coming back from, and that has been extraordinarily useful. I reiterate—I cannot say it any more clearly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to say it again—that in these times when we travel we must accept that we have to go with our eyes open. I gave the example of Jamaica, but, unfortunately, the same thing exists everywhere else. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Is he saying that we should not have travel corridors at all and we should prevent everybody from travelling? That cannot be the case, because he tells us that he wants to support the aviation sector. In which case, some kind of corridors must be open, otherwise we would not be supporting it.
That is why we have pumped an enormous amount of money, via the British taxpayer, into supporting the aviation sector. Off the top of my head, 56,400 members of staff are using the furlough scheme, which will add up to well over £1 billion. There is a £1.8 billion fund, the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility, which has supported aviation-specific companies and there have been all manner of other funds, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, from which £283 million has gone to the aviation sector.
Of course we want the aviation sector to get going again. As I mentioned towards the end of my statement—I will come back to the House on this— testing is a part of that, but I also explained the complexity of testing on day zero. I did not hear whether that is what the Opposition Front-Bench team are calling for, but there are significant issues with testing on day zero in a manner that will not necessarily find those who are carrying the virus but that will convince lots of people that they are not. That approach is not the answer. We are working on all those things, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with us, rather than score points from us, when everybody is trying to the right thing, nationwide, to beat this virus.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to look at islands separately from certain mainland territories. May I also ask him to give a little more detail on his thought processes with regards to testing? He is absolutely right that this has to be all about proportionality. On the one hand, there are many in this country who have forgone their holiday abroad, and it is right that they are not put at more risk of getting the virus than those who have gone abroad. Equally, there may well be the testing capability, not at day one, which we know does not work with any reliability, but perhaps a certain number of days afterwards, which could allow quarantine to be ended and the aviation industry to get much needed support. So on the scale of zero to 14 days, is he looking at about the day eight period for where there will be that proportionality on safety? Also, he mentioned that the House would know more in the coming weeks; may I push him to be a little more specific about when the House is likely to see a different approach come in?
I pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee for his boundless work during this crisis in following up on all manner of transport issues, and aviation issues in particular. He is absolutely right that testing in all its senses is a large part of the solution to everything related, or at least it is an aid to everything related, to coronavirus, and it is extremely important that we get it right. We know that there is pressure on the testing system. Schools are going back and entire classes and years require testing, and the same goes for universities—Dido spoke about this last week. It means we need to ensure that we are prioritising that. We also know that it can be helpful for returning holidaymakers and other travellers. Day zero does not work at the airport, but testing later can work. That capacity will be an issue for the reasons NHS Test and Trace mentioned, and I can reassure my hon. Friend that I will return to the House with proposals, which are currently being worked on with the industry, for something that is both practical and workable and that people can rely on as much as the NHS test and trace system itself.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which we also received a minute after he was due to deliver it.
We can see from all the recent data that coronavirus is currently spreading far more rapidly throughout the UK and many parts of Europe than in recent months. As a result the red list of countries from which travellers must quarantine on their return has been increasing steadily in recent weeks. Often the UK’s four Governments have come to the same conclusions on quarantining decisions at the same time. However, Scotland and Wales have occasionally made different decisions, as is their devolved right. Portugal was recently placed on the red list for Scotland and Wales, as it is now experiencing 23.2 cases per 100,000, but the Secretary of State accused the Scottish Government of creating confusion by placing Portugal on the quarantine list and of jumping the gun on Greece. Indeed, he doubled down on this in his statement today. The Scottish and Welsh First Ministers have not criticised him or his Government for their decisions on quarantine, so these are very unfortunate remarks that the Secretary of State should reflect on and perhaps apologise for.
The resurgence of coronavirus has shown that the trouble for the airline and tourism industries will persist for quite some time. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what further support for the airline industry specifically can the Secretary of State commit to, and will he actually keep his promise to the industry of specific support? If there is a second wave of coronavirus that decimates international travel again, the industry could go back to square one in terms of the pandemic. Does he agree that that makes a strong case for the argument that targeted extensions of the furlough scheme are necessary?
Further to the point that the Chair of the Select Committee, Huw Merriman, made, may I push the Secretary of State on the timeline for this aviation traveller quarantine testing programme? When will he bring that back to the House by? Finally, nobody travels more internationally than cabin crew and pilots, and recent weeks have seen many loyal British Airways cabin crew out of a job having refused to be fired and then rehired on slashed wages. Will the Secretary of Secretary of State apologise to those workers for failing to protect them?
Once again, I will certainly be investigating the statement issue. I am very intolerant of things being dispatched late from my office. I will write to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Members concerned to let them know what happened.
I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my passion for aviation, and I want to answer his points, but it is important to mention the need not to believe everything you read in the newspapers. I know that this will come as a shock to Members across the House, but things are not always accurately reported. I did not criticise Scotland. I simply used the example to explain that it was unable to have the granular data and had to remove the whole of Greece as a result. On Portugal, as he may have heard me say, although the incident rate was higher, the percentage of positive tests had reduced, which is why we came to different decisions. That is within our right. I have spoken to my opposite number in Scotland today and explained that will be further sharing the data to make granular decisions on islands, if that is what the Scottish Government wish to do.
I want to stress our support for not just airlines but the whole aviation sector. It is interesting that this is frequently mischaracterised as being a lack of support, but when we add it up, it comes to billions of pounds. Billions of pounds is not a lack of support. This is taxpayers’ money that we are giving to commercial organisations to try to keep them going.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about testing, I absolutely will return to the House. We have to have the science behind us to do this. It is the same with travel corridors and the island approach. We cannot return here until there is a test, for example, that will work under the circumstances described. So far, as far as I am aware, Porton Down has not approved any of the private tests that we read about every weekend in the newspaper—“It’s solved; we can just do this.” I can only work to the speed of the scientists, but I certainly will not delay.
International visitors spend around half of the £10 billion generated in the west end alone, which is in the heart of my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will continue to monitor and consider taking more countries off the red list as and when it is safe to do so, in order for us to be able to welcome more overseas visitors back to our shores as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is right. I am very concerned about not just the City but the cities and towns across the country that should be enjoying a far greater number of tourists, visitors and business people than they are. I will certainly do exactly what she asks. It is a fact that, at the moment, numbers—particularly from European destinations—are, I am afraid, on the rise, which has led to countries coming off the list, but most weeks we add a territory or two as well.
Given the scale of the challenges faced by the aviation sector and the scale of job losses, today’s announcement seems to fall woefully short of the integrated Government leadership that we need to get planes flying and give passengers the confidence to travel safely. Indeed, many local employers tell me that they do not feel the Government are really listening to the challenges that they are facing. Airports have been working on increased testing pilots for months, and they do not feel that the Government have listened to them either. When does the Secretary of State plan to update the House on increased testing, so that we can reduce quarantine times? Will he come back to the House to tell us when he can extend the measures announced today—for example, to trial flights from Heathrow to John F. Kennedy airport, with New York now having lower covid rates than other parts of the US?
I speak very regularly—including at least twice over the weekend—to the boss of Heathrow airport, John Holland-Kaye, and to businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency and all constituencies that are concerned about aviation and the issues that have been created. The simple fact of the matter is that, as I mentioned, until we have tests that are reliable enough and signed off through the PHE and Porton Down process, it is not possible to simply jump the gun, but I am very actively working with the airports. As I say, it has been a bit of a challenge to convince people on this—it sounds so simple and obvious that someone can just take a test on day zero when they land, a bit like pointing a temperature checker at someone’s head, and then we have to work through the reasons why that will not actually protect us from coronavirus. It is about doing the right things as well as doing those things quickly, but she has my assurance that I am on it day and night, and we will continue to be until we get solutions.
In Stockton South, we have seen a small rise in the number of confirmed covid cases. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that he will continue to keep the travel corridor list under constant and scrupulous review, allowing people to travel where it is safe to do so and, importantly, ensuring that we act to control the virus?
Liverpool airport in my constituency is already losing 15% of jobs in operations—jobs in air traffic control, ground handling and security, and in the airlines operating from there, such as easyJet—because passenger numbers are about 65% down on where they would normally be. Even worse jobs carnage will result if furlough is ended without a sector-specific deal for aviation. If the Secretary of State is focusing on testing to release people earlier from quarantine—there will be an ongoing imposition and lifting of blanket 14-day quarantines, whether or not the islands are included—will he undertake to ensure that there is support like furlough in place for the airports, the airlines and the aviation industry until those arrangements are put in place?
I assure the hon. Lady that we have worked very hard on the package, which is nothing that this country has ever seen before, in terms of size, scale and impact. It has saved literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs in this country. As the Chancellor said, we have to balance that with making sure there are jobs to go back to. I respect what the hon. Lady said: airports such as John Lennon in her constituency are really struggling. I spoke earlier today to the boss of easyJet, which is one of the main carriers there and is desperate to get back in the air. We cannot detach policy from the reality, and this virus is very real. Nobody has a simple solution to deal with it until we get a vaccine, but I assure the hon. Lady that I will be working very hard with Liverpool airport and the carriers that come in and out of it, and with the Chancellor, who will be speaking more at this Dispatch Box at the autumn statement, to do everything we possibly can.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of the islands policy, which seems like a pragmatic, sensible thing to do, but I am sure that a lot of people who are about to go away tonight or tomorrow must be wondering what will happen when they return from their trip. My point is about the testing regime and the possibility of introducing something far more robust at airports. If there is such great capacity available in the system, as the Secretary of State suggested, why is there not a mandatory test for everyone seven days after they return?
I just want to clarify the amount of testing in the system. We have a third of a million tests a day, and we are taking that up to half a million by the end of October, but Members will be aware—this has been discussed in the past few days—that schools and universities have gone back, and pressure on testing is very real at this moment in time. I am not sure we should be prioritising returning holidaymakers in the testing system over, for example, children going back to school. The simple solution is, of course, to create more testing—that is something that I absolutely want to see happen—but that will need to come through the private sector route, which means that the tests will need to be approved and signed off on a scientific basis. As soon as that is done and we can prove the whole thing will stack up, we will be in business.
The £160 billion of support that the Government have made available to businesses has helped many firms within the travel industry and will ensure that jobs are protected for the time being. However, many of those firms now face an extremely difficult winter period. Will my right hon. Friend commit to working with the Treasury to look at different ways in which businesses within the sector, such as Highfield Travel in my constituency, can receive additional support?
I can tell my hon. Friend that I most certainly will. The only thing I take issue is the amount of money, which is a lot bigger. There is £283 million just on the coronavirus job retention scheme, and a lot of the travel companies will have taken advantage of the smaller loan schemes. On a smaller level again, there are things such as the bounce back loan, and that is before we get to the very, very large-scale covid corporate financing facility, at £1.6 billion, and the furlough. There have been an awful lot of projects that put money into businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere. He absolutely has my assurance that that will continue.
Two constituents have approached me who, like the Secretary of State, were already in Spain when that country was added to the quarantine list. Their employer chose not to pay the couple’s statutory sick pay—he is not required to—and that is causing them considerable hardship. Is that not unfair, and does not that lack of sick pay make it less likely that people will comply with quarantine?
As I have mentioned, no one feels this more acutely than I do, given that I effectively put myself into quarantine with that decision. Travel is something that we must all do with a degree of eyes open, accepting the risk at this time. As I mentioned again from the Dispatch Box, people will need to think carefully when they travel about whether, if the country does suddenly end up in quarantine—I explained, with examples such as Jamaica, that this can happen very quickly—they are able to quarantine afterwards. Otherwise, it might be best not to travel, and that is a judgment that everybody will make. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have also made significant moves to assist, particularly where people are in local lockdown areas.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend has been contacted by dozens of his constituents, as have we all, asking whether one country or another is about to be added to the quarantine list. With that in mind, I wonder whether he might share his Department’s thinking on whether some of the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s data might be opened up, to inform those decisions by our constituents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and when people ask me whether such and such country will be added, I usually say, “I don’t know why you are asking me. I couldn’t get it right in Spain and I went there myself, so I am probably not the best guide.” The virus moves in ways that are difficult to predict. I agree that the more information there is available, the better, and he may have seen that I have spent some time publicising and tweeting the various different measures that the JBC uses to assess the risk from each country. This goes way beyond the number of cases per 100,000 over seven days.
I appreciate what the Minister has said about the need for people to have holidays, and in my constituency, we appreciate the value of the aviation industry. Edinburgh airport has already confirmed that around a third of its staff are to be made redundant, so can the Minister assure us that the Government will take every opportunity to balance the need to shorten quarantine to support the aviation industry with following the medical evidence about what is best?
I absolutely can. I have spoken to the boss of Edinburgh airport during this crisis, and I know how difficult it is to run those businesses when people do not know what is going to happen next. Quarantine is of course a devolved matter for Scotland, and those decisions and discussions are ongoing between the Scottish Government and Edinburgh airport, but the hon. Lady has my assurance that this is certainly at the front of my mind.
My right hon. Friend will know that 900 Harlow residents are employed at Stansted airport, directly and indirectly. However, we have already seen many job losses at ABM Blue Handling and easyJet, which has also closed its Stansted airport base, so will he ensure that the measures that his Department is taking will protect the jobs of my constituents?
I know that my right hon. Friend fights hard for his constituents. I spoke to the boss of Stansted, Charlie Cornish, earlier today, and we discussed the measures that we have been taking and our hopes for the way that the policies can develop. One of the things he said would be helpful in this regard is the islands policy that we have announced today. This will help to protect jobs because, in time, it will enable islands to be added when the mainland would not have been flyable to, and I very much hope that that assists.
The Secretary of State suggested three days ago that differences in quarantine rules between the UK nations led to confusion. The UK Government have had more than 20 years to get used to the fact that health is devolved in Wales. Will he therefore clarify that any confusion between the rules in England and Wales arises consistently from a failure on the part of his Government to communicate when their rules apply to England only?
No, that is factually incorrect. I speak to my counterparts from the other three parts of our nation every single week on various occasions, and each of us at different times has had cause to say to the other, “I’m sorry that we couldn’t have done this without you.” That that has happened with both the Welsh and the Scottish Governments at various times, so that is simply untrue; I do try to share the data. It is helpful for travellers if we can move in unison but it is not always possible. The right hon. Lady points out that there have been 20 years of devolution, but that has never meant decisions over things like quarantine in any past situation that I can think of. This has found new territory for devolution.
Many of my constituents were very grateful to get away this summer after the introduction of travel corridors. I know it has not been easy for everybody all the time, with the decisions that had to be made—my right hon. Friend knows that better than anybody—but everyone who did make that choice, and it was a choice, went into it with their eyes open, as he says. They and I will welcome what he says about islands and further granularity. I hope we can get more granularity going forward. In the meantime, can he assure me that the list of countries and islands will be kept under constant review, so we can get to more destinations as soon as it is safe to do so?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and others have mentioned it, too. I know that everyone’s constituents will be in contact to ask whether certain places will be able to be added. I am always very happy to ask JBC to look at particular countries, which I do regularly on behalf of Members from across the House, and it will put some extra time into studying those countries. Of course, it is already looking at the entirety of the world on a week-by-week basis, and he has my assurance that that will continue.
Like many hon. Members, I have had frequent contact from bemused constituents who cannot understand why day after day they see on their television pictures of thousands of people streaming in through our airports with neither testing at the airport, which the Secretary of State said would not be effective, nor testing a number of days later, which the Secretary of State conceded would be effective, and nor, indeed, without, seemingly, tracing of where those people are going and who they are meeting. For hundreds of thousands of those journeys it is too late, and if those people were bringing coronavirus into the country then it has now happened, but we are responsible for what happens from today. Will the Secretary of State give a clear assurance that for every single person arriving at a UK airport we know where they are coming from, we know where they are going, we know whether they quarantine, and we know whether they have the coronavirus or not and, if so, we know who they met? If not, all the talk today is moot.
The passenger locator form has been introduced. That was an innovation. It had to be brought in at great speed during the crisis, but it is now ensuring that we know where passengers are coming from. If people do not fill it in, that is an offence and they can and are being fined. When people do not quarantine—I just want to make this very clear for the benefit of everybody in the House—that is a criminal offence. If you do not quarantine for 14 days and you spread the virus around, you are endangering the people you love and others you have never even met. You can get a criminal record for that. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, we will be stepping up enforcement. In particular, I know that phone calls are made to one in five people—my wife actually, separately, got a phone call—and text messages will be sent. People should be aware that enforcement will be increasingly stepped up.
I thank my right hon. Friend for today’s statement and for being the strong voice for aviation that I know he is. No one wants to see a second spike, least of all one that arises from cases from overseas, but will he assure me that he will continue to explore with an open mind any opportunity, including testing, that will allow the aviation industry to return to the skies and get on with its vital role of unleashing much needed economic growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am a great champion of the aviation sector, as he is, and it breaks my heart to see it suffering, jobs being impacted, and the second or third greatest and biggest aviation sector economy in the world being affected. He is absolutely right to ask whether I will keep my eyes and ears open for absolutely everything that we can do. I have my officials working on that all the time, and I will return—a number of Members have asked when—to the House the moment the scientists provide the information we need to be able to take further testing forward.
Finally, the Secretary of State, in this last answer, actually acknowledged that we have a major aviation sector which is hugely important to Britain and to Britain’s place in the world. There was no acknowledgment of that in his statement, nor any acknowledgement of the 10,000 jobs that have already gone and the 100,000 jobs that are at risk. Also, frankly, the Secretary of State seems to be focusing on seeking complete risk avoidance rather than intelligent risk management. He needs to recognise that unemployment kills and poverty kills. We need to be getting Britain back to work as we go into autumn facing a national jobs crisis and, in particular, a crisis in the aviation industry. When he is going to get a move on?
I may have taken the rather presumptuous position of thinking that the House knew how much I love aviation, but I will put it on record again. As a qualified pilot for 25 years, I absolutely think it is a terrific industry. However, the right hon. Member is right about the balance between getting people back to work—he knows how hard we are working to persuade people to go back—and doing it in a safe way. I do slightly take issue with him over the idea he expressed when he talked about the risk-benefit ratio, and it is very important that we do not see another spike. We are seeing the numbers creeping up, and I think it would be unforgivable if, having got on top of this virus, we re-imported this disease back in again.
The Iceland example is very interesting. I have seen some other countries where they have been doing day zero testing and will privately, in conversation with me, concede that it does not actually provide the answers they require. A test later—whether that is five days, seven days or eight days is to be calculated by the scientists—is a much more possible and probable solution. I gave the example earlier of what happened when one of the airport bosses had his group tested a week later, and he found somebody who already had the virus but was not picked up at the beginning, so I think my hon. Friend is absolutely on to something.
The University of York is going to extraordinary lengths to support international students arriving in the UK—from picking them up at airports to isolating them for two weeks at the university before teaching begins. However, this process could be significantly improved if a clear testing and tracing regime and testing infrastructure were put in place. The Secretary of State has said that there are capacity issues, but why has he not properly planned for this, having known the arrival programme of international students? It appears that he is shifting the responsibility on to universities to manage this situation, rather than sorting it out himself.
No, I do not accept that, because students actually come from lots of different places. Some of them will be in travel corridors and do not need to self-isolate; others will require self-isolation. But in the context of being here—for perhaps a year, two or three years—this, I hope, will be a manageable situation for them. Again, let us not pretend this is all just straightforward, and that somehow we can magic tests that are signed off and work. I remind the House again: there are no tests—such private tests have been referred to many times—that are currently signed off as being usable, and we have to be led by the medicine first.
Many of my constituents work in the aviation and travel industries, with both Manchester airport and Leeds Bradford airport within an hour’s travelling time. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State continue to do everything he can to introduce the testing regime that will not only support the aviation and travel industries, but give certainty to holidaymakers and business travellers alike?
It has been incredibly heartening, during this pandemic, how our communities have come together and done the right thing. They have followed the rules, and it is great to see. However, during this quite chaotic conversation about tourism, with tourists coming back from Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports, I have constituents now contacting me on email and by telephone concerned that their neighbours are not doing the right thing. Is the Secretary of State aware of this, what is he going to put in place to protect those people—particularly in constituencies such as Batley and Spen, where, in Batley, we have enhanced restrictions—and what is he going to do to reassure constituents like mine?
I agree with the hon. Lady: it is not only wrong and frustrating; it is also illegal for people to do that—come back and break the quarantine. We absolutely will be stepping up measures, and I am working with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others to secure that. Again, I will say more about it very soon. In the meantime, I send the message clearly from this Dispatch Box that when people break their quarantine, they are breaking the law and putting themselves in line for a criminal record, and it is not something that anyone should want to do.
The travel corridor policy, while clearly very upsetting for those affected who have worked very hard for a holiday, is absolutely the right thing to do to keep us all safe. Could I ask the Secretary of State to consider one change, though, which would be to move the weekly time for coming back from 4 am on a Saturday to midnight on a Sunday? Changeover, for most people, is on a Saturday or a Sunday, so most people could complete their week’s holiday without having to buy expensive flights, which they do not have the money for, and ruin their holiday. Would he at least just consider that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is true that changeovers do indeed often take place on a Saturday. It might help if I explain the tensions that have to be measured off. The medical community would of course say, “Don’t leave any time at all: do it immediately”—which is virtually what happened with Spain, the very first country to be removed from a corridor—and the other view is to allow it to continue. It is a question of finding the best balance between the two that would satisfy the chief medical officer and his concerns as well as trying to get people home. I promise to undertake to continue to look at this, but I hope my hon. Friend understands and the House will appreciate the natural and proper tensions that are in place.
My constituents want to make informed decisions about their travel arrangements, so will the Secretary of State consider publishing the evidence and criteria by which countries are deemed to be on or off the quarantine list?
Yes, I can help the hon. Lady, because I have already, several times, published the basis for the decision-making process. The easiest way to find it is on my Twitter feed, @grantshapps, which explains the measures put in place. The data is then available for somebody to look at. We have been quite clear about where people need to go to see exactly which measures are taken into account.
As I mentioned in previous answers, billions of pounds have gone into support for the sector, and even once all those schemes have been exhausted, there is a programme run specifically by the Treasury that enables bespoke support to the industry. I cannot go into details because those are confidential arrangements, but they do already exist.
Will my right hon. Friend address international rail travel? He will know that Eurostar services from Ashford and Ebbsfleet have been suspended until 2022. Can he assure me that it remains the Government’s intention that those services should be resumed as soon as possible and that the Government recognise the importance of Kent’s international rail services?
Absolutely. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are very concerned to see those stations closing and the lack of activity. As with our discussions about airlines, this is entirely driven by the progress, unfortunately, of the virus. We will continue to keep it under review and work very closely with HS1 and that line to get them reopened as soon as possible.
I mentioned a few moments ago the example from an airport boss relayed to me this morning where a day zero test failed to pick somebody up whereas a day seven or eight test was able to do that. That shows why a single test on arrival is not the solution, much as it is not the solution to temperature-test somebody on arrival to see whether they have got coronavirus. We need to be more sophisticated than that, and we absolutely will be. I remind the hon. Gentleman that different parts of the devolved Administrations will need to come to their own decisions on it as well.
I agree completely with my right hon. Friend on the need for testing to improve and to increase. Given that in most international travel, someone arrives at the airport sometimes many hours before travelling, will he give consideration, as the science moves forward, to enabling testing to take place before people get on aircraft so that if they are showing signs of symptoms, or they actually have the virus, they are not allowed to travel at all and not allowed to infect people on the plane they were travelling on?
A sort of pre-quarantine is something that other countries are using; my French counterpart is using a 72-hour test before people arrive in France, for example. Again, you need to be certain that somebody has quarantined during that period and be cognisant of the incubation period, which can be up to 14 days with coronavirus, so it is not an entirely straightforward solution, but I do think it is worth additional examination. Again, I look to the scientists to help advise on this, and they are being very forthcoming with that advice.
Heathrow airport has a large testing facility that is sitting idle, the UK economy is losing an estimated £60 million a day in tourism revenue, and constituencies near airports, such as mine, are in economic crisis due to covid. If equivalent countries with lower infection rates, such as Germany, can provide targeted support for their aviation sector, such as furlough extension in our case, and quick-turnaround tests—tests are getting more accurate all the time—why cannot the UK?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady heard my previous comments about day zero testing, but Germany is one of the countries that I know has been carrying out some tests at the border, along with France, Iceland and others. Some of those countries have found that that on-the-day test is not the solution that we want it to be in terms of detecting the disease. As I said earlier, we are following the science and allowing the scientists, including at Porton Down, to look at the various tests and then provide advice about what would be a safe time, and I am working closely with the industry to try to get that in place.
I welcome the statement and the pragmatic way that the Secretary of State is proceeding. My view is that the 14-day quarantine is a bit of a blunt instrument, and I am doubtful whether everybody does it. I think that if we moved to a seven-day double-test system, it would make people safer but could also encourage more travel, so we may get a double advantage from doing that. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said, and all speed to him.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments. The only thing on which I disagree with him is that I think the first test is not required and will lead people, if they test negative, to think that they maybe do not need to quarantine. The test that helps to shorten would be the important one.
How concerned is the Secretary of State about other countries placing quarantine restrictions on the UK because of the rising tide of coronavirus infection here?
I think the rises here and elsewhere are concerns for everybody. We saw with France, for example, that its case numbers went up and so far there has not been quarantine in return, but of course it remains a live issue. It is something that we in this country can all do something about by following the rules and by reminding others that this virus has not gone away and to make sure that we do not spread it.
Just in recent days, Bolton has seen the highest infection rate in the country; today it stands at 115.8 per 100,000, with local media associating the dramatic spike in cases with a British holidaymaker who went on a pub crawl after returning from Spain. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on everyone to do the right thing by staying home for the full quarantine period if mandated to do so after returning from abroad?
Yes, absolutely. How irresponsible is it to bring a disease back and then spread it around communities and put people’s lives at risk, as well as being at risk of getting a criminal record? I absolutely join my hon. Friend in that call.
Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions are had and what information is shared with the Northern Ireland Executive to align international travel advice as closely as possible while still accepting and respecting devolved authority? I am ever mindful that people from Northern Ireland travel from Belfast directly and use Glasgow, Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick and even Dublin International airport for connections to further afield. Does he believe that there is a case for mandatory alignment to keep all regions safe?
As discussed earlier, there is a devolution settlement that for 20 years has not been subject to these types of questions, which are usually to do with reserved powers. They are what they are. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am in very close contact with my opposite numbers in Northern Ireland, including as recently as today, and we continue to try to co-ordinate across our Union as much as possible.
As international travel slowly but surely gets back on its feet over the coming weeks and months, will the Secretary of State look at what further support he can give to help the many, many jobs dependent on the travel industry, such as through airport slots for airlines?
My hon. Friend raises the interesting question of the 80: 20 rule—I think that is what he is referring to—which, at the moment, is a European competence, but from
Will everybody be brief now? I call Dr Rupa Huq.
This in-out, hokey cokey of on-off air bridges and quarantine comes without interruption. Passengers have landed at Heathrow and gone straight on to the Piccadilly line through Ealing and Acton, which is now a petri dish—we have an above-average virus rate—so can he please stop playing politics and give Transport for London the bail-out that it deserves at a time of national crisis to save the whole of London and my constituents from that second spike?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on shoehorning TfL into all this. I know that we will be having further conversations, but if memory serves me right, I have already bailed it out to the tune of £1.6 billion.
Travel corridors are a necessary, albeit blunt, instrument to control covid levels in this country, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s further announcements today. However, does he agree that differing rules across different parts of the UK are confusing and awkward both for passengers and tourist industries?
I do accept that this adds to some confusion for people, but none the less, we respect the settlement that is in place. It is important, though, that we work as four nations as closely as possible together, and I will continue to look for opportunities and ways to do that, including through a lot of information sharing to enable us, I hope, to come to decisions that confuse people a bit less.
I am surprised that Dr Davies did not welcome the fact that the Transport Secretary is following what was done in Wales in relation to having an islands policy. It is good that devolution is helping each different Administration to learn. Can we, though, have a look—as his hon. Friend Andrew Selous said—at the issue of announcements at 4 am on a Thursday, rather than at a time when people can have their travel arrangements in place?
Yes, the usual pattern is in the afternoon on a Thursday with the measures then coming in at 4 am, as the hon. Gentleman says. I understand the point about the changeover date, as I mentioned before, which has to be measured against the question, “If you know there is a problem, is it right to wait and allow that problem to develop?” But it is a judgment call and I am not going to pretend otherwise. As I said to my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, I will certainly be reflecting on this further.
Thousands of international travellers used to come into the country via HS1 before the virus hit. Now HS1 is in a perilous position, with both Ebbsfleet and Ashford stations closed until at least 2021. Given the Department’s commitment to high-speed rail, would the Secretary of State or one of his team care to meet HS1, Eurostar and me to try to resolve this serious situation?
Yes, it is a concern that those stations are closed until 2021 and I would be very happy, with the Rail Minister, to have that meeting. It is extremely concerning and is, again, another sign of how all-encompassing the fight against this virus—it is not over yet—is. I will make sure that the meeting is set up.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for three minutes.